Ah, yes. The sequel album. An artist releases a timeless album and more often times than not, the second installment a shameless PR stunt when released years and years later. These opinions reek of bias, but in the modern world of journalism, bias is critical. Take for instance the major cable news network battles between FOX, CNN, and MSNBC. Regardless of your political affiliations, you know where FOX stands and where MSNBC stands, but CNN is so busy trying to play the “objective journalism” card that the network looks ridiculous in the end, like that annoying prick you know who hops on whatever NFL bandwagon that looks the most promising for the season. Everyone knows FOX is all for the oppression of pussy, and MSNBC is a proud proponent for all issues pertaining to the vagina, but CNN is the coward pussyfooting around, trying to be friends with everyone. While FOX is Pro-Life and MSNBC is Pro-Choice, CNN is Pro-being-the-last-kid-to-get-picked-up-for-the-football-game. Pathetic.
And if you feel sum type uh way about the vulgar language I just used, you obvs didn’t come of age in the year 2000 when the original Marshall Mathers LP dropped and don’t understand the nostalgia factor at play here, and therefore the dilemma. Nostalgic memories are the mind’s own hideaway in times of necessity, and I’m not ashamed to admit I go there…sometimes even 13 years ago when I moved Heaven and Earth to find MMLP album, only to discover years later that my parents had sifted it after watching a story on the news claiming, incredulously, that a topical album about murder fantasies, drug addicts, and prostitutes was not constructive listening material for 11 year olds. (You can learn more about my fondness for the album here).
So truth be told, I didn’t even want to listen to the album. Why not call it “Redemption” or something, a natural, witty progression in the whole Relapse-Recovery series? Then I could judge it objectively. But no. A quick skim over the track-list did nothing to quell my pessimism either. Who the hell is Jamie N Commons? Where’s D-12? Where’s Dre? Where’s Stan…? Oh wait. With such a bold title, Em better come hard (no Ken Kaniff) I told myself. The first album changed my life and made me a lifelong Em fan. In a black man’s game, Em Dirk Nowitzkied his way into the top of the hip-hop pantheon, all the while rapping about killing his mother, killing his wife, killing Dr. Dre, and Vicodin. (Pre-listen session thoughts) There is no chance in hell that MMLP2 is better than the original, but if it’s even half as good it deserves props.
Thankfully Em recognized my concerns and addressed it in Rolling Stone magazine. “Calling it The Marshall Mathers LP 2, obviously I knew that there might be certain expectations. I wouldn’t want to call it that just for the sake of calling it that. I had to make sure that I had the right songs – and just when you think you got it, you listen and you’re like, ‘Fuck, man. I feel like it needs this or that,’ to paint the whole picture. So there’s not gonna be, like, continuations of every old song on there or anything like that. To me, it’s more about the vibe, and it’s more about the nostalgia.”
The first song I heard off MMLP2 was “Berserk,” the first official single that’s currently getting mad radio spins. But radio-play doesn’t mean a damn thing to me especially in this day in age, when obscene noise abominations like “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful But That’s What Makes You Beautiful Uh Ohhh” can top the charts. “Berserk” is energetic, and has an old-school Beastie Boys feel, but the song doesn’t cut it for me in the end. (Editor’s Note) Produced by Rick Rubin, the song actually samples The Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right?” How did I not catch that? Anyways…
Judgement day soon arrived, and I put aside my skepticism and gave Em a chance. Along came “Bad Guy,” and my first thought is “this is the best Em song I’ve heard in years.” “Bad Guy” is a helluva opening, with Em ingeniously providing a first-person account of his plot to murder himself. Da Art of Storytelling has always been Em’s most finely tuned gift, and as “Bad Guy” progresses, anecdote becomes authenticity, and before you know you are trapped in the story. Em is one of the closest rappers to late great B.I.G. in terms of meticulous detail. It’s the same reason why you feel like you are really standing next to Dre with a can full of gas and a hand full of matches whenever you listen to “Forgot About Dre,” or why you’ve heard “Stan” a billion times but still cringe when you get to the part where the car plunges over the bridge amid screams. No matter the absurdity of the lyrics, Em layers his raps with so much picturesque minutia that the narrative smacks of potent reality; the portraits are like 5 Tequila shots straight to the dome. On “Bad Guy” the narrative stops abruptly, the characters vanish, the masks come off, and Em spends 2 full minutes talkin 2 himself but his fans as well with some of the most introspective man-in-the-mirror raps I’ve ever heard. I wanted to trim this quote down a little to give you basis of the testimony, but I can’t bring myself to edit out one line. Stunning…
“I also represent anyone on the receiving end of those jokes you offend
I’m the nightmare you fell asleep in and then woke up still in
I’m your karma closing in with each stroke of a pen
Perfect time to have some remorse to show for your sin
No, it’s hopeless, I’m the denial that you’re hopelessly in
When they say all of this is approaching its end
But you refuse to believe that it’s over, here we go all over again
Backs to the wall, I’m stacking up all them odds
Toilets clogged, yeah cause I’m talking a lot of shit but I’m backing it all up
But in my head there’s a voice in the back and it hollers
After the track is demolished; I am your lack of a conscience
I’m the ringing in your ears
I’m the polyps on the back of your tonsils
Eating your vocal chords after your concerts
I’m your time that’s almost up that you haven’t acknowledged
Grab for some water but I’m that pill that’s too jagged to swallow
I’m the bullies you hate, that you became
With every faggot you slaughtered
Coming back on you, every woman you insult
That, with the double-standards you have when it comes to your daughters
I represent everything, you take for granted
‘Cause Marshall Mathers the rapper’s persona’s half a facade
And Matthew and Stan’s just symbolic
Of you not knowing what you had ’till it’s gone
‘Cause after all the glitz and the glam
No more fans that are calling your name, cameras are off
Sad, but it happens to all of them
I’m the hindsight to say, “I told you so”
Foreshadows of all the things that are to follow
I’m the future that’s here to show you what happens tomorrow
If you don’t stop after they call you the
Biggest laughing stock of rap who can’t call it quits
When it’s time to walk away, I’m every guilt trip
The baggage you had, but as you gather up all your possessions
If there’s anything you have left to say
Unless it makes an impact then don’t bother
So before you rest your case
Better make sure you’re packin’ a wallop
So one last time, I’m back
Before it fades into black and it’s all over
Behold the final chapter in the saga
Trying to recapture that lightning trapped in a bottle
Twice, the magic that started it all
Tragic portrait of an artist tortured
Trapped in his own drawings
Tap into thoughts
Blacker and darker than anything imaginable
Here goes a wild stab in the dark uh
As we pick up where the last Mathers left off”
From the outset, it’s clear Em is on a mission. A seasoned vet in the game, Em em-ploys the full assortment of his artistic expertise on MMLP2. The master ringleader of his own domain, Em juggles these various traits of his musical prowess like a circus act. Snippets of the manifold Marshall Mathers personas are all in attendance here. For better or worse, each bar and flow is crafted methodically. Sprinkles of the introspective, sentimental “Beautiful” and “Sing For The Moment” Em. Dashes of the maniacal “Kill You” and “Criminal” Em. Specks of the goofy “The Real Slim Shady” and “Just Lose It” Em. Hints of the blood-boiling “Lose Yourself” and “No Love” Em. Not to mention the polished producer Em has grown into over the years, 8 miles removed from those wack-ass Encore beats. But the different characteristics are not easily detectable, blended almost too perfectly. Blurreeddd Lines!
Em received a lot of praise for his verse on Drake’s “Forever,” causing him to repeat that same accelerated flow on future recordings. But Em is too much of an rap aficionado to just rely on one crutch, which I suspect is the main reason the rhyme+flow combinations on the album are simply dazzling at times, such as on “Asshole” and “Rap God.” Em comes close to mimicking the same flow he exhibited on “Forever,” but he drowned in it. On “Rap God,” Em’s pacing is rapid, yet contained. Usually the artist follows the beat, but somehow it seems that the instrumentation seems to be following Em, without even the slightest hint of an off-beat flow.
Always the fearless artist, Em goes deeper into expanding his musical horizons with a lot of MMLP2 tracks, enlisting the help of wizened producers when the time calls for it. In the beginning of his career, Slim mostly distanced himself from things that colgate-mouth-washed his image, going so far as to threaten The Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, Britney Spears, and New Kids On The Block while spitting on XXplosive beats by Dre. Maybe this had to do with the racist tapes Em had recorded in his tweens, but most likely had to do with the wise decision to avoid having his career tainted with the wackness of Vanilla Ice. Songs like “Sing For The Moment” (classic) and “Beautiful” dabbled in more Rock-influenced territory, but on songs like “So Far…” Em is fully embracing his Detroit Rock City roots: “Maybe that’s why I can’t leave Detroit/ It’s the motivation that keeps me going.” Rick Rubin samples Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” and is a melodic standout on the disc. Em even covers The Zombies with “Rhyme Or Reason,” with some more help Rubin, adding another triumph. And speaking of Rubin, his production style works so well together with Em’s song-writing/musical preferences that I’m left wondering why they haven’t made a ton of more records in the past.
“The Monster,” featuring Rihanna, will be playing all over the radio and every Subway restaurant in a few weeks at minimum, so I only have a short amount of time to enjoy it before I begin to detest it. I’m not a big fan of things related to Rihanna besides her body, but her collaborations with Em are always on point. Not to much to say about “Love Games,” Kendrick and Em? Do I really need to tell you that the song is flames? Ain’t nobody got time for unnecessary words, even in the blogosphere. I said earlier that MMLP2 could’t possibly be better than the original, and of course I was right. Some songs are easily forgettable, like “Baby,” “Brainless,” and “Groundhog Day.” Some tracks have a majority of the right ingredients for long-term #kellmill replay value, like “Stronger Than I Was,” but they are not immediate bangers.
But I ain’t got no worries. Nothing has changed about my perception of Eminem, even though I rank this album right behind The Slim Shady LP as his fourth greatest album to date. A great accomplishment, considering Em is 41 years old now. Can you believe that shit? Personally, he had long ago proven to be one of the greatest rappers of all time, so this album doesn’t raise or lower my stake in him. This is just another notch on the already impressive resume, minus Encore of course. While still not better than Jay-Z, Tupac and Biggie, Andre from Outkast, or Nas, he’s one of the best to ever do it. My personal top 10 list of the GOAT emcees is like a Where’s Waldo picture with one white dude in a beanie cap and an over sized gray Air Jordan hoodie. They call him Slim Shady.